Today, I had cataract surgery. Lots of fun. Actually, the surgery was not bad. It was getting up at such an ungodly hour of the morning to go to the hospital and then waiting around while they prepped me that sucked. Fortunately, I have a lot of confidence in my doctor, even though he looks like he just graduated from high school. It may sound stupid but I find it unnerving when doctors are younger than me, and almost all of them are these days. When we were growing up doctors were always older than us and that automatically made them seem wiser. Just an illusion.

Anyway, it’s hard to see with just one eye (the patch comes off tomorrow) and I am tired as hell. So, for today, while I spend my time resting, just a little about the subject of the Medicine Buddha.

Below is a photo of my altar. The statue in front is Kwan Yin. Behind that, the Medicine Buddha and a mandala with the Medicine Buddha’s Siddham seed syllable.

As part of my daily practice I often recite the Medicine Buddha mantra:

Tadyatha Om Bhaishajye Bhaishajye Maha Bhaishajye Raja Samudgate Svaha

I’ll right more about this mantra in a future post, when I can see better. In the meantime, here is some information on the Medicine Buddha from the Dalai Lama, found at Men-Tsee-Khang, the Official Website of Tibetan Medical and Astrology Institute of H.H. the Dalai Lama:

The full name of the Medicine Buddha is Bhaishajyaguru Vaiduryaprabha, the Healing Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance. Like Shakyamuni he wears the robes of a monk and is seated in the full cross-legged posture. His left hand is in the meditation mudra, resting in his lap and holding a begging bowl filled with medicinal nectar and fruit. His right hand rests upon his knee with palm facing outward in the mudra granting blessings and holds the stem of a myrobalan plant (Terminalia chebula), renowned as the king among medicines because of its effectiveness in treating both mental and physical diseases.

In traditional Tibetan tangkas, the Lapis Healing Master is often shown in the company of seven other Medicine Buddhas, one of whom is Shakyamuni himself. And in depictions of his eastern buddha realm known as Pure Lapis Lazuli, the Healing Master is generally flanked by the two leading bodhisattvas of that pure land, Suryaprabha and Chandraprabha, respectively All-pervading Solar and Lunar Radiance.

The most distinctive feature of this Medicine Buddha is his color, the deep blue of lapis lazuli. This precious stone has been greatly prized by Asian and European cultures for more than six thousand years and, until relatively recently, its ornamental value was on a par with, or even exceeded, that of the diamond. An aura of mystery surrounds this gemstone, perhaps because of its principal mines are located in the remote Badakshan region of northeast Afghanistan, an all-but-inaccessible area located behind the Hindu Kush. One commentator has written, “the finest specimens of lapis, intensely blue with speckled waves and swirls of shining gold-colored pyrite, resemble the night aglow with myriads of stars.” Traditionally this beautiful stone was used to symbolize that which is pure or rare. It is said to have a curative or strengthening effect on those who wear it, and its natural smoothness allows it to be polished to a high degree of reflectivity. For all these reasons ­ plus the fact that deep blue light has a demonstrable healing effect on those who use it in visualization practices ­ lapis is the color of the principal Medicine Buddha.

The Lapis Healing Master is one of the most honored figures in the Buddhist pantheon. The sutras in which he appears compare his eastern pure land with the western paradise of Amitabha, and rebirth there is said to be as conducive to enlightenment as is rebirth in Sukhavati. Recitation of his mantra, or even the mere repetition of his holy name, is said to be sufficient to grant release from the lower realms, protection from worldly dangers and freedom from untimely death. In one of the main sutras concerning the Medicine Buddha, Shakyamuni tells his close disciple and attendant Ananda:

If these sentient beings [those plunged into the depths of samsara’s sufferings hear the name of the Lord Master of Healing, the Lapis Lazuli Radiance Tathagatha, and with utmost sincerity accept it and hold onto it, and no doubts arise, then they will not fall into a woesome path.

Medicne Buddha

Bhaisajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha

Yesterday there were a number of reports in the media about Lindsey Lohan turning to Buddhism in an effort to deal with her troubles. Mostly vague reports, mind you, and perhaps, not even true, but several mentioned that she was using yoga and breathing techniques that might help her cope with the upcoming jail sentence. I suppose to some folks breathing techniques and yoga automatically mean Buddhism or something, but who really knows what she is doing, in private. In public, that’s another matter.

Anyway, on one of the sites I visited some smart-alec left a comment saying that Ms. Lohan should move to Los Angeles and open a Buddhist rehab clinic. I think she already lives in Los Angeles.

Less than two minutes later, on another unrelated site, I ran across this: Inside Bangkok’s only Buddhist rehab temple

For six years, Wat Saphan, a Buddhist temple located in a notorious slum in Bangkok, has been working with men addicted to methamphetamines. This is the only drug addiction they deal with. No heroin addicts or marijuana users. And they only treat men.

As an alternative to prison, these users from the slum were sentenced by a court to free rehab at the temple, along with several months of probation. Sophon Pattananusit, the phra kru or abbot of Wat Saphan says, “About 100 people at a time attend our Buddhism classes. The course takes two months. About 30 percent of the addicts go back to drugs, compared to about 30 percent who show some improvement and get stronger. The other 30 percent seem to be cured completely.”

Addiction is a problem that I know Buddhism can be very effective in treating. It’s an area that is just beginning to be explored, which I find rather puzzling considering the fact that historically many Westerners have turned to Buddhism specifically because they were trying to overcome an addiction problem.

Some of the current efforts unfortunately try to adapt Buddhism to the 12-Step Program, or vice versa. I am no fan of the 12-Steps. I see it as merely replacing one addiction with another. Participants in these programs only transform their addictions to drugs, alcohol, or whatever the case may be, into an Addiction to Recovery. When you have to attend meetings on a daily or weekly basis in order to maintain sobriety, it is not recovery. It’s using a crutch.

The program at Wat Saphan does not use the 12-Step method. “I teach them about Buddha and dhamma,” Sophon says.

Addiction, like most forms of suffering has roughly two components. One is obviously attachment, and the other is looking for something outside on oneself for satisfaction or happiness. The two are interrelated, of course. Addiction also involves behavior. In order to facilitate recovery, there is a need to not only change one’s way of thinking, but behavior has to be modified.

Psychology and Buddhism: from individual to global community by Kathleen H. Dockett, G. Rita Dudley-Grant, and C. Peter Bankart was published in 2002, and deals not only with the subject of the title, but also provides a nice history of Buddhism in the West, along with (I love this) “Bio-babble”, and some other topics.

In her article, “Buddhism, Psychology, and Addition Theory in Psychotherapy,” G. Rita Dudley-Grant,  Ph.D., MPH, ABPP, and licensed clinical psychologist, writes:

Behavioral Theory has also found itself in concert with Buddhist philosophy, and Buddhist practices. It is found that in both disciplines there is a fundamental belief that behavior change is possible (de Silva, 1986). Moreover, both Buddhism and behavioral psychology set out specific methods by which one’s outward as well as inward behavior can be modified. One particularly interesting example was provided from the Dhammapada Commentary, which described the Buddha’s recommended “treatment” for a King who had an eating problem, and who sought help from the Buddha due to his “slothful” and “drowsy” state after each meal. The Buddha set out a specific behavior modification plan, which included gradual reduction in food quantities, along with queuing, the systematic use of rewards, modeling and self-monitoring. Many other techniques now labeled as behavioral, but existing within Buddhist practice for centuries have also begun to gain acceptance in behavioral psychology.

While I am skeptical and critical of approaches that strip Buddhism of important components to the point that it becomes just another form of psychology (I think the scope of Buddha-dharma is infinitely wider than that), there is absolutely nothing wrong with Buddhism and psychology informing each other, or with integrating elements of one into the other. One of the key words in the above quote is “self-monitoring.” This has to come from within. When monitoring, and by this I mean being self-aware of the triggers and so on that perpetuate addiction and as well the struggle to resist the addiction, is imposed from mainly from outside, how can there be any real recovery?

Some will disagree with my assessment, and perhaps there is no real recovery. There are many who believe not, and they maintain that one is always addicted, and while that may be true to an extent, and though I recognize that the 12-Step program is considered very effective, I can’t help but think that there must be a better way. In terms of dharma, two of the 12 steps (the powerlessness over addition and belief in a outside higher power) are, to my mind, antithetical to Buddhist philosophy.

Buddhist practice, Tibetan medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and other Eastern disciplines have tremendous potential which the West is just beginning to tap into, and they can contribute substantially to modern science in almost every area. Hopefully the work at Wat Saphan will be studied in depth and perhaps it can serve as a model for future efforts in the treatment of addiction and other areas.